Social Sciences

Pamplin Media Group – Lake Oswego teachers dish on first new social sciences curriculum since 2005

Written by Mamie M. Arndt

A previous curriculum adoption was skipped due to reduced resources during Great Recession

Social science, which is an umbrella term for basically everything that isn’t English, math and science, makes up a lot of a student’s class time.

Heading into 2019, however, it had been 14 years since the Lake Oswego School District revamped its social science curriculum, which encompasses everything from geography and government to history and psychology.

Lakeridge High School teacher Brittany Larson was on the committee that spearheaded the 2019 adoption of a new social science curriculum. She currently teaches world history, geography and Advanced Placement European history.

“Part of the reason that I volunteered on the curriculum adoption committee is because I had never gotten new materials since being in the district,” Larson said.

She said the district was trying to conserve money during the Great Recession and the years after, and ultimately skipped social sciences when it came time for a new curriculum.

“It’s easy to go, ‘oh it’s history, it’s not going to change,'” she said.

It was especially easy to forgo new history books, she said, when Common Core math was rolling out and had to be prioritized.

The committee ultimately chose a curriculum that had a digital component as well as print.

“We recognized the value in being conscious of screen time and all that,” she said. But the committee also wanted the flexibility of digital format, and no one knew that soon enough digital resources would become necessary.

“It’s become so critical. … I was so grateful that we have all the digital options,” she said.

Larson said it’s hard to imagine using the previous curriculum in distance learning.

“I’m not sure how to quantify it, but it would be so much harder,” Larson said.

The old curriculum was outdated in a number of ways.

“I think one of the things we have all come to realize lately is (that) just because history is in the past, doesn’t mean it’s stuck there,” Larson said.

Specifically, she said interpretations have changed. The new curriculum’s history books include voices from marginalized communities, not just the white perspective.

Another Lakeridge teacher, Natalie Shevlin, agreed that the new curriculum has more diverse perspectives.

“I think teachers are realizing maybe the resources they used 10 years ago are not appropriate anymore,” Shevlin said. “The textbooks are certainly better than they used to be.”

She said the new curriculum does a good job at trying to shift the lens through which history is told — from Eurocentric to one that includes more diverse voices.

Shevlin said the curriculum adoption didn’t come without some pushback from parents, and her colleagues have had some pushback on teaching regarding matters like race as a social construct and white privilege.

“It was really easy for us to say, ‘well, it’s in the curriculum,'” she said. “Luckily, we have full district and admin support.”

The previous curriculum also affected how well a teacher could teach for the AP exam.

Larson said the college board had completely redesigned the AP exam in the 2015-16 school year and the old textbook didn’t correspond to the new exam.

“For three years I was working with a textbook curriculum and test bank that didn’t correspond with the test,” she said, adding that she had to make all the resources from scratch.

She called having this new curriculum that corresponds with the test “a world of a difference.”

“I’m so grateful that we were able to do the adoption,” Larson said.

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About the author

Mamie M. Arndt